Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Italy >
Aug 21, 2013 12:37 PM

Seeking Advice for Parma and Environs

We will be arriving in Parma (from Sestri Levante on the coast) on a Sunday morning, in time for the afternoon Verdi Festival performance at Teatro Regio. We plan to stay overnight and then mush on toward Cremona and Lake Iseo. Looking for suggestions (1) for a light lunch before the performance, (2) a good dinner afterwards, and (3) a really good leisurely lunch in the country the next day.en route north. But most of the in-town trattorie in Parma (Cocchi, Greppia, Angiol D'Or) have mixed reviews or worse from the Italian reviewers, except for Trattoria del Tribunale, and most also reportedly have changed hands within the past few months.

Our best current thinking is (1) light lunch at Sorelle Picchi, the dining room in the rear of Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto; (2) dinner at Tribunale; and (3) Monday lunch at Cavallino Bianco, at La Buca, or at Locanda Stella D'Oro in Soragna. We'd appreciate comments, reports of recent experience, critiques, suggestions, and advice of all kinds -- including alternative suggestions, as well as guidance on which of the three country places to choose (Da Ivan isn't on the list because their website says closed on Mondays).

If it's not too presumptuous, we hope Allende will be among the responders

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Not presumptuous at all. Happy to do it. Unfortunately, I don't have anything for Monday lunch.

    Stella D'Oro is a mediocre at best. A competent chef, who like so many others, tries to do much too much, all outside of his circle of competence, with many too many non ER (and non Italian) touches. We went once a few years ago and would never go back.

    I think Miriam's (La Buca) is closed on Monday.

    I'd recommend Locanda Mariella in Calestano, but it, too, is closed on Monday. So sorry not to be able to recommend anything in the direction you're going.

    2 Replies
    1. re: allende


      FYI, I've just checked the La Buca Website again, and it says the closed day is Tuesday. I take it from previous posts that you'd strongly recommend it. No thoughts on Cavallino Bianco?

      1. re: chowtraveler

        I just looked at the La Buca web site. You're right. It has always been closed on Monday. Open on Monday... GO!

        I have no thoughts on Cavallino Bianco.

    2. Here are some more reviews of Cocchi for what its worth from a website with local posters in that area. though not as active as it used to be, you might find it interesting.

      We really liked Tribunale on our one visit, the food was very good, as was the welcome and it was a fine price value ratio but Id like to stress that its ultimately a simple trattoria I can imagine going up a notch in price point and perhaps experiencing a trifle more refinement for a meal in this very sophisticated and wealthy region.Do get the cured meat antipasto wherever you are to sample the different varieties at their best and dont oveorder - a plate for one is often more than enough for two!

      If you are going up toward Cremona and Lake Iseo, there are several really good country places in that part f Lombardia which you might consider aiming for for a meal en route- Ive been hoping to visit some of these for a long time.Talking about places like Caffe La Crepa in Isola Dovarese,.Osteria Della Valletta at Palazzolo Sull'Ogio even Dal Pescatore in Canneto sul'Ogio Hopefully Allende will weigh in - at Lago di Iseo you may be in reach of Miramonti.l'Altri at Conceso or another well regarded trattoria, and La Madia in Brione,

      We liked our relaxing lunch in the "tavern" at Cavallino Bianco and the site on the banks of the Po is lovely and relaxing to visit .The quality was very high, for meats, pasta and they also serve seasonal dishes (in our case, we had sturgeon from the river) I dont know whether the quality has changed at CB since Mr Spigaroli opened the restaurant at the adjoining Antica Corte Pallavicina (I think there is an Allende report here somewhere on that) - im tempted to stay at the relais the next time we visit this region.

      Lastly, if you decided on Sestri Levante, you are very close to the culinary mecca of Ne in the hinterland behind Chiavari where you can experience the classic land cuisine of the region. We had a memorable Sunday lunch at la Brinca, reported on here (except for Sunday open only evenings)- there is also Antica Trattoria dei Mosto (not visited by us) which allende has reported on which has lunch hours as well. I would highly reccomend a visit if you have time.Nonna Nina on the Monte Portefino is pretty darn good as well (in a beautiful location to visit)

      19 Replies
      1. re: jen kalb

        @Jen Kalb,

        Thanks for the link to Cocchi reviews. In Parma Centro, do you have a specific place in mind at a price point (or two) up from Tribunale? I gather that Parizzi is a horse of another color (so to speak, in light of the various cavallo dishes on various menus).

        Your comment on Cavallino Bianco is encouraging, although this just means we have to make a choice vis-à-vis La Buca. Thanks also for the additional Lombardia suggestions, which I'll look at forthwith.

        And finally, thanks so much for your Liguria comments. I'd already printed out your two lengthy trip reports from last year (fyi, if you meant to show a link, it failed), and will be turning to that area as soon as the Parma plan is settled.

        1. re: chowtraveler

          Just for the record, Cocchi is not a trattoria. It is a restaurant. Here are the same sites reviews of Tribunale.

          Something else worth noting is that it is somewhat rare to read a favorable internet review of a higher priced restaurant from Italians. You may have already noticed this.

          Regarding the Riviera, there are actually a lot of good places to eat right in Sestri Levante if you like fresh seafood. My favorite is Polpo Mario. If you are spending more than a day there, David Downie's book is a great investment, and there are previous recent threads here about Sestri Levante. Also, Luchin's in Chiavari is simply wonderful, but as much as I like Nonna Nina on the Portofino promontory, I wouldn't bother making the effort to get there, as they can be uneven. If you have a car and want to get away from the seaside, it is a lot more fun to head straight inland, and I like the val di Vara, which directly inland from Sestri Levante and is the locus of organic farming in the region. Gli amici in Varese Ligure is a Slow Food listed restaurant (as are the ones jen and Allende talk about a bit further north).

          Or eat in the Lunigiana, since you apparently won't have time on your way to Parma.

          1. re: barberinibee


            Thanks for these suggestions on Liguria. I notice that the David Downie book is from 2009. Would the restaurant recommendations still be reliable? Four years can see lots of ownership and management changes.

            And yes, I have noticed that the Italian reviewers on TripAdvisor and Amioparere (a great site I hadn't known of) tend to complain a lot about prices, and are particularly hard on the more expensive places -- but I thought the latter was usually because they thought the price should be reflected in the quality. (Also, Google's machine translations are always amusing.)

            1. re: chowtraveler

              We found the Downie reccs as well as the helpful background info about the food in the different areas good on our trip last year but bb being in the region would know more

              complaining about price seems to be endemic in the italian food sites - I feel like a lot of this relates to places that serve the local cuisine (which posters may still be able to enjoy at grandma's house) as opposed to truly upscale places like fish and seafood specialists, for example

              1. re: chowtraveler


                Actually, 4 years isn't a lot of time in Liguria, and I don't think a 2009 guidebook is any more of a hazard in that regard than a 2012 one. It is forever a risk using even yesterday's Chowhound recommendations that you will arrive at the doorstep of some highly regarded eating destination to find a sign on the door that it has new management or somebody died.

                The value of Downie's book is 4-fold: The first is that a huge number of coastal eateries exist to feed beach-going daytrippers cheaply, and the food can be pretty low. In that sense, it might as well be the Jersey shore. However, almost all the towns are so very slender, it is really no trouble to walk 100 steps to a better place to eat so long as you have some clue which one that is. (And Downie is a modest-wallet eater.)

                Second, there is a lot of Ligurian food that never gets mentioned in guidebooks that is really very tasty, and Downie is comprehensive.

                Third, Downie loves wine, coffee and gelato, so he has loads of good recs for people who share those interests.

                Lastly, Downie loves the Riviera, and its overlooked towns -- in fact, he has quite a bit of info on Sestri Levante's cafes and historic candy makers -- so his book really hooks you up with the olive oil, the salty wine, the stuff that comes from the earth and sea. Even if an individual recommendation is dated, you get to understand the flavors and aromas of the Riviera at their roots, so you get to move beyond your teacher, armed with knowledge, and be a free spirit (which is very much the feeling of the Riviera!)

              2. re: barberinibee

                PS, chowtraveler,

                It occurred to me this morning that I should elaborate on my comment that Nonna Nina is "uneven," because it implies that its cooking standards are uneven, which is definitely not so. Its cooking and ingredients are of the highest local quality, and if you plan to be visiting the area of Portofino, this is definitely a stellar restaurant choice for exquisitely prepared traditional food (which is simple to the max).

                Because it is located in a somewhat removed spot, and because it is a very small operation, it is optimal to go there for lunch on a weekend during the prime sunshine season, or during holidays, and reserve in advance. At other times of the year, that area gets so few people, Nonna Nina sometimes does not have all its menu items. It would go out of business, throwing away food, if it stocked everything every day off season.

                So not knowing when you are traveling, my discouraging comment about Nonna Nina was to spare you any possible disappointment upon arrival. But if you are going to be in the area other than wintertime, and can arrange a weekend lunch, Nonna Nina is running on all cylinders. Reserve and go at the beginning of the lunch hour, and you'll have the full array of menu choices bar exceptional circumstances.

                1. re: barberinibee

                  Thanks for the clarification - I wondered, since it seemed like a place which executed the dishes extraordinarily well. We walked in for a weekday lunch last October (definitely out of season) and didnt have any issue obtaining a delicious meal - there may indeed be particular items not available at times for the reason BB states (there were only a few tables of visitors on that occasion), but I would not hesitate in trying them if you are in the Monte Portofino area. There are wonderful walks and views from the area of this very civilized restaurant as well.

                  1. re: jen kalb

                    ps - just to clarify, we walked in for a reservation as soon as we reached the area, and arrived for our meal at the beginning of their lunch service, We were probably a little cavalier in not reserving ahead but it WAS offseason

            2. re: jen kalb

              Re: Caffe La Crepa, Osteria della Villetta, dal Pescatore

              We managed to eat at all 3 places last October. It's been so long now, but here's what I can remember of the 3:

              * Caffe La Crepa: Family run, locally sourced ingredients, charming establishment. The restaurant started off as a gelataria - infact, you can still see the ancient equipment in the property. Tbh, I can't quite remember what we ate (dishes were fine, but not incredible). IIRC I had a lake fish pasta (ok, nothing spectacular). But I do recall having a fantastic gelato based dessert at the end, which we learned was made by the father.

              Bonus: If your Italian is shaky, the son speaks almost perfect English (better than our menu-based Italian anyway!). Through him, we learned all about the restaurant's history, and were given a tour of the restaurant and cellar. All in all, it was a good meal. If you are in the area, it's worth a stop (but not a detour).

              * Osteria della Villetta in Palazzolo sull'Oglio
              Now this is a destination osteria. It was our favourite from our trip 2 years ago, so we decided to return last year since we were in the area (well, we were staying in Brescia). The first time we went, it was nothing short of a revelation. Chef Maurizio chose all our dishes for us, and we were given a quick snapshot of what the area had to offer - notably beautiful pours of franciacorta, delightful secondi of lake fish (iirc perch), and a lovely parcel of cabbage and meat (sorry, this description is vague, but this was already a few years back, and I don't have my notes with me). To end, we had the most intense and creamiest gelato (only nitro ice cream rivalled its creaminess) that we still talk about to this day (it was also served in conjunction with Pistoletto's colour wheel graphic card attached to the serving bowl - nice touch, juxtaposing modern artist with such a traditional restaurant).

              The second time we visited (last year), the food was still good.. but seemed to be a notch down from the first experience. We'd later find out that Chef Maurizio was not in the kitchen that night (the kitchen was also slammed too - every single seat was filled on this Thurs evening). Still, I would recommend this restaurant in a heartbeat. The restaurant's interior is charming, the food delicious, and the service was graceful (nobody spoke English btw).

              * dal Pescatore
              The dishes were fine: mostly classics of the area: (again) lake fish, ravioli, risotto (best dish of the tasting menu). The setting is in the Santini house (the entire family was there the night we dined: daughter at the front, Chef Nadia in the kitchen, sons manning the floor. The setting is very formal. Everyone was a gracious host, and chef Nadia personally came out to bid everyone buona notte when service wrapped up.

              I'd recommend if you're feeling like something more upscale. It's pretty much what you'd expect from a Michelin 3 * restaurant - clean plating, serene and upscale room, choreographed service, beautifully plated food.

              *** Also in Brescia: we had the most AMAZING pastries from Pasticceria Veneto. Tbh, there have only been a few pasticcerias in Italy that have won us over (guess we're more fond of butter & French pastries.. ), and this was one of them (the others being Andreotti in Rome, Perbellini in Bovolone, la Bottega del Cioccolato in Florence, and Pasticceria Torino in Parma - yes, we are sweet tooths!). It is *truly* worth seeking out. We had a nice selection of small pastries, and they were all fantastic and skillfully made. If you're there Oct or later in the year, would also suggest picking up the signature panettone that they (pastry chef Massari) make - it's totally worth making the space in your luggage for!

              1. re: DistendedBelly

                Not important, but just for the record, there is no daughter. That is Giovanni's wife.

              2. re: jen kalb

                We were at La Crepa a long time ago and then again two years ago. Very mediocre food, a wine list that is supposed to be good (but is not: "oh, try this vintage; it's the same as the one on the wine list which we do not have": no it is not the same), and they take themselves much too seriously for what they produce. We would not go back, nor recommend that anyone go.

                We like Osteria Della Valletta a lot, really a lot. I wrote it up on this site, but the post has disappeared. A real gem. Everything about it: the food, the wine list, the service, the atmosphere (in the middle of nowhere), the owner Maurizio who is a great restaurateur... everything.

                If only it were open on Monday. Unfortunately, it's not.

                Dal Pescatore I don't want to comment on because they are close personal friends. In any event, the restaurant is closed on Monday... also Tuesday... and also Wednesday at lunch :)

                1. re: allende

                  Aha. I see that Osteria della Villetta is only 20 minutes from Clusane, where we plan to spend two nights after driving up from Parma before heading back to Malpensa and home. We'd been thinking about going over to Bergamo the next day for sightseeing and lunch, although no particular lunch place has commended itself. Would I be correct in assuming that you think Villetta would be the place for that Tuesday lunch? (If I understand the Website correctly, it's closed all day Monday, and for dinner Tuesday and Wednesday, but conveniently open for lunch those two days.) And would you say the cooking is similar to La Buca down in ER, or different?

                  I should say that I'm grateful for your guidance, having found your posts on Piemonte enormously valuable as we plan this trek.

                  1. re: chowtraveler

                    @ chowtraveler

                    Thank you for your kind words re Piemonte. If you only want to have lunch, and stay in Alba in the evening, do go, in the following order to these trattorie: Da Bardon (a must), La Torre in Cherasco, and Osteria Veglio below La Morra. As far as restaurants: Il Centro in Priocca; Da Renzo in Cervere. They are all very worth while, each in its own way. For what it's worth re driving at night. The road to Veglio is simple. You get on the main road out of Alba going to Barolo and La Morra. When you get to the sign that says Annunziata and La Morra you make a right turn. 3 km. up on the right side is Veglio. Couldn't be easier even at night.

                    Re Villetta and La Buca. To paraphrase Tip O'Neill, "all food is local" in Italy. La Buca and Villetta couldn't be more different, aside from the fact that they are wonderful country trattorie in Italy. La Buca is south of the Po and that means the richness of ER food, and in general, means butter more so than olive oil. If you go, and if I were you I would because Miriam is out of another era, there are four dishes to try that will give you the true flavor of the Parmense countryside. These dishes are always on the menu, because the menu almost never changes. Try the Prete, the Mariola, the tagliatelle con culatello (Miriam developed this dish a long time ago and had it on the menu before anyone else we know... and her version is by far our favorite; how could it not be, her own culatelli are hanging no more than 10 yards away), and the Pasticio.

                    Villetta is totally different. North of The Po (in fact on the Oglio which eventually passes Dal Pescatore), the food, while rich, is much, much less so than in ER. You are in Lombardia. It is near the lake, so that changes the cuisine a bit. The food, while not refined (this is a trattoria) is more refined than La Buca. Again, both excellent for food in their own way. It sounds as if from your schedule, you might be able to go to both. I would.

                    One final note and this is not directed at you, but for readers in general. Both La Buca and Villetta have good wine lists. I often laugh inside at some posters. Very few mention wine. Good wine is "the" accompaniment to good food. Today (as opposed to more than 35 years ago when we first started going to these types of places), a decent trattorie will have a decent wine list or at least several bottles that are decent (Da Bardon is the poster child for a great great wine list). The "house wine", 90% of the time, is just a mixture of the dregs of other people's bottle. There is some, but very little, decent house wine. The pricing of wine in restaurants in Italy is unbelievably fair and the consumer reaps the benefit of this policy. One does not have to order bottles for 50 euros plus or even 20 euros, in order to get a decent bottle. There are plenty of decent wines in trattorie that go for 10-15. One just has to spend a little time to become knowledgeable about the local wines. It makes a huge difference to the enjoyment of the food. Generally, house wine is to be avoided. I hope Vinoroma doesn't disagree too strongly:)

                    1. re: allende


                      You are a persuasive person. Our most recent thinking for our 4 days based in Alba is:

                      Friday (en route down from Lago Maggiore and after a possible quick detour into Asti), lunch at Cascinale Nuovo;

                      Saturday, the Alba street market and lunch at Il Centro;

                      Sunday, driving around the Barolo loop and lunch at Il Veglio;

                      Monday, walking around Bra and Cherasco followed by lunch at da Renzo in Cervere.

                      You will notice that this says nothing about dinners, reflecting my inability to come up with anything that exciting in Alba itself. On the other hand, I wonder if we'd be up for very much exciting only a few hours after those lunches.

                      Still, you're a very persuasive person. We are prepared to re-think this. And I haven't failed to notice your strong support for Da Bardon. Can you (or anyone else reading this) recommend anything over that way that would be a good way to spend the morning?

                      Re night driving, it's not that I'm apprehensive about driving either at night generally or in the Italian countryside generally -- been doing the latter for literally 50 years (well, 49) since taking that little white Fiat 124 convertible from Rome (downtown Rome -- what was I thinking?) to Firenze and then over the mountains to Ravenna and on to Venezia, not to mention more recent driving tours of Tuscany and Umbria.. It's the combination of unlit small roads and sometimes (in our experience) spotty signage that gives me pause (not to mention wine, although we certainly do look forward to the wine equally with the food, even at lunch).

                      And speaking of wine, that is a startling statement about house wines. We do have some knowledge of the Italian wines sent to the US (mainly from Piemonte and Tuscany/Umbria), and we especially love some we've found from small producers who distribute through small importers. But it's been a long time since we've seen such things as Freisa or Lambrusco or Franciacorta. Can I prevail on you to suggest some (DOC's or producers, including IGT producers) we should be on the lookout for, that we're not likely to find in the Washington, DC area?

                      Thanks again for such generous guidance and advice. .

                      1. re: chowtraveler

                        I would definitely not go to Cascinale for lunch, even if it is open. Cascinale is really a "dinner only place" except for possibly on Sunday.

                        Da Bardon is one of the great trattorie in Piemonte (or elsewhere in the north of Italy). Check this board and see the response of people who have gone. It would be a shame to miss it. As far as something to do before going to lunch at Da Bardon, go to Canelli or Nizza Monferrato... or take a walk. There is a great walk from Bardon (park the car there) and walk on the small road to the town of San Marzanno Oliveto. We do it often and it is delightful. Or... skip Veglio and go to Bardon.

                        The three wines you mentioned are not something we drink often, so I'm at a loss to mention producers. If you go to La Buca and/or Villetta, both will be able to steer to toward good small producers of these three wines. Luca at La Buca and Maurizio at Villetta are very knowledgeable.

                        By the way, perhaps I missed it, but what month are you going to Piemonte, ER etc?

                        1. re: allende

                          We'll be in Milano for just three days on arrival (Sept. 20-22), then Stresa Sept. 23-26, then Alba Sept. 27-30, then Sestri Levante Oct.1-5, then one night in Parma, then two nights at Lake Iseo (Clusane), then our last night close to Malpensa for a morning flight home.

                          I realize that the three wines I mentioned are not top-level, just looking forward to experiencing them at some point in the trip because we can't do that here. My question about producers was really concerned with the Barolos/Barbarescos/Gattinaras/Barberas/Dolcettos.

                          We appreciate your comment on Cascinale. Do you think it would be feasible to lunch at Da Bardon en route down from Stresa to Alba? If I'm reading the map rightly, it doesn't look like too big a detour.

                          1. re: allende

                            And speaking of maps, in planning we've been using our tattered 1999 Michelin Motoring Atlas for Italy. For use on the ground, is there another line of maps that would be preferable, like Hallwag?

                            1. re: chowtraveler

                              we found the GPS and googlemaps on my phone very helpful on the last visit (Rome-Pisa-Liguria) - I would think it would be very good in most areas that are fairly well organized. GPS got less effective in Naples outskirts, where it seems that development is outstripping mapping.. you can find local maps in local stores/tourist offices. the Michelin Atlas is pretty good as I recall - you might want to copy relevant pages and leave the big book at home however - thats what we do with all our books now - copy, doublesided and 2 pages per side, the relevant excerpts from the guides, staple into a little book and throw away when we leave the destination.stuff like ferry and bus schedules, hiking trail maps etc are pretty readily available online..

                              1. re: jen kalb


                                It is certainly feasible to have lunch at Da Bardon on the way from Stresa to Alba. In fact, it makes perfect sense; that's what I would do. Just leave enough time to find Bardon (actually it's easy, between Canelli and Nizza Monferrato). It's an easy trip.

                                I wasn't thinking in terms of the three wines not being top level. Lambrusco, in particular, and some of the wines of Franciacorta, are very good. It's only snobbery, and what is shipped to The U.S. (mostly garbage), that has given (dry) Lambrusco a bad name. The good producers of these wine are available at La Buca and Villetta.

                                However, as you indicated, you're thinking of producers of Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera. It would take me pages and pages to tell you what producers we like. BTW, they are all available at Da Bardon (one of the great wine lists in Italy... and it is a trattoria, not a ristorante!) and Il Centro in Priocca. I wouldn't bother with gattinara and dolcetto in Piemonte. There are great barberas in the same price range that are much more interesting.

                                For what it's worth, these are our current favorite single bottles of the three:

                                2007 or 2008 Barbera, Giacomo Conterno, Cascina Francia
                                2007 Barbaresco, La Spinetta, Vigneto Stardei
                                2001 or 2004 Barolo, Elio Altare, Arborina

                                But please don't go only on this. There are an abundance of great producers for each wine and if you tell the restaurant what you're willing to spend and what type of wine you prefer, you'll find the restaurants very accommodating. There is something good for every taste and price range. Da Bardon and Enrico Cordero at Il Centro are masters of this.

                2. Hi chowtraveler. I wouldn't bother with Stella D'Oro. If you're in the Soragna area, Osteria Ardenga is a much better bet. In Parma, Angiol D'Or seems to have gone downhill and there are not really any trattorie that stand out. However, La Greppia, Antica Cereria and Osteria del 36 are usually reliable. Good luck.

                  1. Sorry, but another thought. If you are going to the afternoon performance at the Teatro, why not head out of town for your evening meal? E.g. Mariella's (maybe a bit far), Ai Due Platani in Coloreto or Antichi Sapori in Gaione.